WASHINGTON – Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas (search) is hoping three-days of lobbying the White House and Congress will get him the support he needs from the United States.
Abbas will point to a truce he secured with militant groups and reforms he made in his government. In return, officials say he will ask for intensified U.S. pressure on Israel to return to the negotiating table
"We want a clear American position with regard to implementing the road map and we want economic support," Abbas told reporters after arriving in Washington on Tuesday.
The internationally backed road map peace plan, which calls for the establishment of a Palestinians State, has been long stalled with both sides, Israel and the Palestinians, blaming each other for the deadlock.
Neither side has fulfilled their obligations.
Abbas meets with President Bush on Thursday, the highlight of a tightly packed schedule of visits with lawmakers, Jewish and Arab American leaders, and senior government officials.
The Palestinians have several grievances, mainly Israel's continued expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and their reluctance to resume peace negotiations with the Palestinians.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has said his government will complete its plans to withdraw from the Gaza Strip (search) and four West Bank (search) settlements this summer before considering a return to the negotiating table. Sharon also demands that Abbas disarm militant groups.
The U.S. hopes the pullout will jump-start the peace process but Palestinians are skeptical, citing fears Israel will use the plan as an excuse to hold onto large chunks of the West Bank.
With color coded maps showing existing Jewish settlements, and Israeli plans for future expansion, Abbas hopes to convince Bush that his fears are not baseless.
In a speech Tuesday in Washington, Sharon vowed Israel would hold on to major West bank settlements in any final peace deal.
"The major Israeli population centers in Judea and Samaria will remain an integral part of the state of Israel and will have territorial contiguity with Israel in any final status agreement," Sharon told the annual meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
Of particular concern for the Palestinians is Israel's plans to build some 3,500 new homes in Maaleh Adumim, the West Bank's largest settlement. The construction, if completed, will isolate Palestinians from traditionally Arab east Jerusalem and destroy their dreams of making it the capital of their future state.
White House backing is key for Abbas as his ruling Fatah party prepares to go to the polls in upcoming parliamentary elections. Their main challenger is the Islamic Hamas, a militant group that is quickly gaining popularity among a general public tired of the political and economic stalemate.
Abbas was voted into office on a platform of security, reform, and a promise of a future free of the Israeli occupation. Though he's been slow on delivery, a show of support from the White House could boost his stature.
"We're democratizing. Now we want our freedom," said Palestinian Finance Minister Salam Fayyad.